Towards the Modern Nation
The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, The Lady of the Lake, and Waverley
It has become commonplace to think of nations as political constructions that emerge in the condition of modernity, rather than as ancient or primordial communities based on common ancestry. Anthony Smith concludes that much discussion of nationalism and nation-building since the mid-twentieth century has been informed by 'the paradigm of classical modernism', in which nations are conceived as 'social constructs and cultural creations of modernity, designed for an age of revolutions and mass mobilization, and central to the attempts to control these processes of rapid political change'.1 The nation conceived in these terms is not an organic community like those described by the founders of nineteenth-century nationalism (such as Fichte, Mazzini, and Michelet). Instead, it is a community created – with varying degrees of conscious design – through modern forms of communication and by centrally organised institutions. The most influential example of such thinking is probably Benedict Anderson's account of nations as 'imagined communities', an account that foregrounds the development of 'print-capitalism', which helped to stabilise print-languages and provided new forms for 're-presenting' the nation, such as the novel and the newspaper.2 But many other writers have explored the role of imagination and memory in nation-building, investigating the production of commemorative rituals, traditions, monuments, museums, and other cultural forms as means of fostering collective identity.
This way of thinking about nation-building gained prominence during a period in which the global political map was being rapidly redrawn, as many new independent nations appeared (notably in Africa and Asia) as a result of decolonisation. It may help us to see what is at stake in Scott's fictions, since he was writing in an age when the experience of revolution and war had led to a dramatic recasting of the political geography of Europe and its territories overseas. The sudden transformation of the French state in the revolution heralded a new era